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Incidence estimates of sudden cardiac death (SCD) in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) are unknown.Over 12 months, the household administrative office and health community committee within neighbourhoods in two health areas of Douala, Cameroon, registered all deaths among 86 188 inhabitants aged >18 years. As part of an extended multi-source surveillance system, the Emergency Medical Service (EMS), local medical examiners and district hospital mortuaries were also surveyed. Whereas two physicians investigated every natural death, two cardiologists reviewed all unexpected natural deaths.There were 288 all-cause deaths and 27 (9.4%) were SCD. The crude incidence rate was 31.3 [95% confidence interval (CI): 20.3-40.6]/100 000 person-years. The age-standardized rate by the African standard population was 33.6 (95% CI: 22.4-44.9)/100 000 person-years. Death occurred at night in 37% of cases, including 11% of patients who died while asleep. Out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest occurred in 63% of cases, 55.5% of which occurred at home. Of the 88.9% cases of witnessed cardiac arrest, 63% occurred in the presence of a family member and cardiopulmonary resuscitation was attempted only in 3.7%.The burden of SCD in this African population is heavy with distinct characteristics, whereas awareness of SCD and prompt resuscitation efforts appear suboptimal. Larger epidemiological studies are required in SSA in order to implement preventive measures, especially in women and young people.